Good Portents, Portions

Photo by Amy TheligThe evening was filled with goodportents. Money arrived from an unexpected source, the Super Glue debacle cleaned up with hand cream—it was as if the world's psychics, fortune-cookie bakers and Karl Rove were suddenly working for me. So the wife and I decided to break our 10-year civil-disobedience action and attend the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, to stand shoulder to padded shoulder with other holiday enthusiasts in a night suddenly wintry after all that tropical heat, to take in the sight of yachts throwing out showers of light like confetti on black water. We were only momentarily pissed to find that every last American seemed moved by the same impulse. They teemed along PCH, parking illegally, making sudden unblinkered U-turns across three lanes of traffic, jayrunning just beyond the yawning grilles of luxury vehicles as though daring the rich to run them down.

Like Mary and Joseph, we found nowhere to park. We drove inland, leaving the car outside a vacant “four-bedroom, four-and-one-half-bath custom residence” that “exudes old-world charm and quality,” “nestled on the bluff overlooking harbor and ocean.” This would be the place from which we would watch the much-esteemed parade of gaily lit watercraft, this empty home like a beautifully wrapped box of nothing.

The darkened side yard was navigable only by a small rectangle of light from a garage window. It used to be said that the poor envied the stalls of a rich man's horses; I knew that feeling. Peering in at the window, we saw a well-lit garage bigger than our home, its built-in cupboards apparently bare but for one thing conspicuously taped with blue painter's tape next to the door that led to the butler's pantry: an OC Weekly cover from a few weeks back, the one featuring the president waving his middle finger and the words “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” I know! In Newport Beach! Portents everywhere! I half-expected Santa to slip off the roof with a bottle of Nyquil and Rebecca Romijn naked in his bag.

From the back of the house, we spied Rodman's (formerly Josh Slocum's) and decided the boat parade would look infinitely better from there. Last I'd heard, Dennis Rodman had decamped Newport Beach for reasons that seem pretty apparent—black—but then a colleague went to a killer party at his restaurant and recommended we try it. We could drink, listen to great music, relax in something like a club, and watch yachtsmen drink themselves sick while sailing the length of the harbor like mechanical ducks in a gallery, but more liquored-up and with no one shooting at them because Mrs. Mathews made me leave the 9 mm at home.

We didn't expect to celebrate Christmas this year, certainly not on Dec. 18 and not at Rodman's, but we did. We valet parked, sat next to a window whose view was largely the prow of a yacht the size of the White House, and were treated as if we were Friends of Dennis.

I ordered Moet N Chandon with a hit of Chamborde. Mrs. Mathews ordered a steak. Do not fuck with Mrs. Mathews where flesh is concerned; on a menu offering a 10-ounce New York cut of Kobe (beef, not Bryant) and a filet mignon (also 10 ounces), she went for the 14-ounce Black Angus rib-eye. The peppered, grilled cut arrived a tick after the scent of her garlicky mashed potatoes and was accompanied by very fresh vegetables.

It's so easy to jack up rib-eye, but Rodman's chefs did not: it was tender, slightly pink, enticing even to a vegan. But I resisted, considered the wine list again (Meritage Dominus for $290 per bottle? The 1997 Krystal at $500?) and asked the waitress to double up my M&C. Mrs. Mathews delighted in her steak; the potatoes were supreme.

Dennis Rodman must be aging, and I mean that in the nicest way possible because beneath the veneer of fun—the restaurant is an end-of-the-Roman-Empire-chic, Vegas-style club with the aforementioned water view, billowy drapes, silk lampshades, lots of naked statues and throw pillows, and an R&B soundtrack—the food is serious. The garlic potatoes were tickled with rosemary. The rib-eye was what food critics call perfection.

By the time the cheesecake arrived—a lovely, dense piece over which someone had drizzled caramel—I was pretty toasted, honestly, not having paced myself at all. Ray Charles was banging on Rodman's woofers and screaming through his tweeters; a ghost ship drifted by, some kind of manger motif in its stern. I wanted to track down Dennis Rodman himself to say thanks. Word on the street is that he moved up PCH to H.B.; we are glad he hasn't left OC. We had expected club food, Hooter's with a view, and instead discovered water like liquid light, fine food, Christmas.


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